The future of the Maritime Single Window

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How to look into the future?  Let’s try to do some disruptive thinking Food for thought at 2014 years End? (The considerations hereunder do not hold or represent any AnNa opinion)

What's up in 2014? The Declaration of Athens in May. The Transport Ministers fostered Blue Belt and European maritime space without borders. The European Parliament approved the new European Commission. 15 years after the Erika Disaster DG MOVE and EMSA presented the EU Union Maritime Information and Exchange System. The IMO approved compulsory electronic reporting for ships. Most EU Member States keep putting major efforts in promoting e-Government.   In the meantime, in most major European towns, we can see the future. At the mall or shopping streets.

Let’s talk about the future of maritime transport. It's the world's most important transport axis and not very likely to loose that position. Is it ripe for disruption? Does digitalisation force this industry to meet its Napster?

For those who are not hip to the online music world, Napster practically destroyed the record industry when it made it possible for people to share their music collections, for free, with other Internet users – without paying the band, the record label, the distributor or the retailer. 

The Internet has practically destroyed the print media, too. It has made it so cheap and so easy to distribute text in digital form that no old-style publishing business can resist it. Newspapers sales are sinking. Bookstores are closing. Directories and databases are all abandoning dead trees for the fluid freedom of fast-moving electrons. 

An Open-Source Solution

Which brings us to the Apple store. 

"What's the problem," asked a confident young woman with an iPad in her hand. I explained that one of her email programs wasn't working properly. The woman took some digital notes... or checked some boxes. After a brief set of interrogatories, she announced: "A technician will be with you soon. Most likely, he'll already know what the problem is." 

He would most likely know because he had probably seen it before. And the iPad had set him up for it. The information fed into the iPad helped the machine identify a range of possible problems and solutions. The technician must have had a fair idea – even before he saw the "patient" (the laptop computer) – what was wrong and what to do about it. 

Most actors in the logistics chain do not have unusual reporting formalities problems. They have the same problems most other actors have. Similarly, most administrations do not have rare systems architecture problems; they have the kinds of problems most other administrations have. 

These problems can be fingered in just a few questions asked by a competent clerk... tested with a few additional questions... instantly assigned probability scores for the accuracy of the diagnosis... and given additional probabilities for the effect of suggested Maritime Single Window (MSW) applications to facilitate trade or enhance logistics interoperability.

These diagnostic software systems could be open source (meaning there would be universal access by way of a free license to the source code). This means an army of software developers all over the world could improve them. And they could be updated and deepened, second by second, by administrations, logistic chain operators, including the maritime industry... to record, recall and deliver far more information than one National Competent Authority (NCA), Customs Authority or Port Community System (PCS) alone ever could. 

After pointing to likely problems, such software could produce thousands of pages of documents, histories, studies, science, articles and so forth – including dissenting opinions and alternative recommendations – allowing the EU Member State (and for that matter EMSA) to become as much of an authority on the weaknesses of his MSW (facilitating) solution as he chose to be... and to take as much charge of his remedying solutions as he wished to. 

The program could also recite the risks of the various MSW solutions more clearly than the typical IT companies or technical assistance could. EU Member States could then buy hard and software just as people do today at Apple stores. 

Where necessary, questions could be easily enhanced by (possibly EU co-financed) fact finding (field research) missions and more objective tests. Complications, confusions and uncertainty could also be easily flagged for further study or more traditional IT system technologies. 

Member States, and for that matter their Customs/CoastGuard’s/NCAs, would have no obligation to use this new service. Nor would they be limited to it. It would be a cheap and easy alternative, at a fraction of today's prices and efforts.

A Major Disruption in Maritime Transport?

But wait, you might say, what about the risks? What risks? 

Presumably such a system would make wrong diagnoses from time to time. We also presume that, occasionally, treatments would be inappropriate. But is there any reason to think there would be more errors in such a digital system than in the more human-based system we have now? 

Probably not. 

The Internet would also allow NCA's, Customs, Coast Guards and related MSW stakeholders to report on their progress on a daily... or even hourly... basis. This would allow the software to "learn" – adjusting its models, depending on the reported effects. 

But wait. Can this be real? Are we dreaming? The maritime transport/insurance industry is probably so rich... so successful... there is only a limited opportunity the conniving partners – in the industry and the capitals of the EU Member States and Brussels  – would permit the competition. 

Beyond the current democratic institutional processes in place, the EU and the major ports are confronted with by wealthy special interests. And few special interests in the logistic chain are as rich and powerful as the ports, terminal operators and shipping industry. 

What would the quacks and specialists do? Who would buy the worthless hardware and software solutions? How would the Customs make their money?

And what about the law enforcement authorities? Who would they scrutinize if the advice came from an open-source computer program... with thousands of contributors... including all operators in the supply chain? 

Nah... A disruption in the maritime transport industry? Likely or likely to happen?